Opened by the Caledonian Railway in 1874 primarily to serve mills along the Water
of Leith, the branch line from Slateford to Balerno soon attracted picknickers and
other daytrippers drawn to its peaceful countryside. Worked by rolling-stock designed
to cope with its tight curvature, it faced bus competition from the 1920s, and
passenger trains were suspended as a wartime economy in 1943, freight continuing
until the last of the mills closed in 1967. 

On removal of the track it became the Water of Leith walkway, but walkers and
cyclists had to face an unattractive transit through the damp and gloomy tunnel just
north of the old station at Colinton. Then following the banking crisis local trade went
into decline with the closure of bank branches and other premises, and thought began
to be given to how tourists might be lured back to spend their money in the village. As
well as attracting visitors, turning the tunnel into a welcoming place might break the
cycle of graffiti begetting more graffiti and improve community safety by
discouraging antisocial elements from congregating there, making it into a place
where people would want to stop and chat.

Robert Louis Stevenson had family connections which had brought him often to
Colinton. As well as memorably capturing glimpses of passing scenes, his poem
“From A Railway Carriage” from his Child's Garden of Verses (1885) reproduced
below is much loved for its onomatopoeic rhythm imitating the sound of a steam
train, so the idea was conceived of depicting the poem on the walls of the tunnel
where it would become the “spine” of Scotland's longest mural.

Fundraising during 2016-8 proceeded in parallel with design for which help was
received from the Robert Louis Stevenson Society, and the commissioning group led
by Mike Scott selected as lead muralist Chris Rutterford who brought in artists
Duncan Peace, Craig Robertson and Lubi Lykan as his subcontractors. The City
Council's contribution was to renew the lighting and mostly not to obstruct progress,
and doubts faded as people began to see progress. With text on one wall and
accompanying illustrations stretching across the tunnel roof and down the other wall,
the task now was to engage with the local community. 

Over 600 people from Colinton, Bonaly and Juniper Green Primary School and
Firrhill High helped create elements which they painted on boards for attachment to
the wall. Families from the local Army community at Redford and Dreghorn Barracks
made a key contribution reflecting the area's military heritage, as did members of the
Pentlands Arts Club. 

With 2000 square metres of surface area along the tunnel's 140-metre length requiring
to be scraped, wirebrushed and undercoated, local organisations whose volunteers
helped with preparations included Tiphereth's mighty Peregrines, the Scottish
Association for Mental Health's Redhall Walled Garden, the Water of Leith
Conservation Trust, Boroughmuir Rugby Club and Sustrans, who also gave generous
financial support. Community payback teams helped varnish the boards, acquiring a
sense of involvement, and as well as producing a three-dimensional effect this method
proved more durable than painting directly onto brickwork.

The Balerno Pug engine can be seen pulling its train out of the tunnel towards
Slateford, and nearly opposite at his table in a carriage is RLS himself. Local
characters worked into the design included grumpy stationmaster John Kerr, though
Chris drew the line at admitting disgraced banker Fred Goodwin, and Mike's wife
appeared as a witch. Remembrance had to be treated with appropriate poignancy. A
rainbow that vaults the tunnel became multipurpose because of its associations with
the NHS and with Pride. 

The project could not have been carried out without the generosity of local people,
whose contributions made up a third of funding. Grants from Sustrans ArtRoots Fund,
the Armed Forces Covenant Fund, The Turtleton Trust, the National Lottery
Community Fund, Crudens, the Currie Balerno & District Round Table, The
Mushroom Trust, Currie & Balerno News, Virgin Money Foundation, City of
Edinburgh Council, Co-op Local Community Fund and the Educational Institute of
Scotland all ensured completion.

A measure of the Tunnel's impact is that a recent count found 2200 people passing
through in an hour. Ultimately the fate of such a project depends on the regard in
which it is held in the local community, so they must be always in the lead.
Continuing scope exists for adding to the design, and there is an ongoing task of
guarding against damage by vandalism or the weather, so an income stream to keep
the mural sustainable is provided by the sale of merchandise - cards, towels, colouring
books, with still to come a jigsaw and maybe consultancy services to other similar
projects. Recognition so far includes an Award for Community Engagement from the
Association for Heritage Interpretation, and Colinton's fame has reached its Australian
namesake which also has a tunnel in need of repurposing. 

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!